Physical Activities that Provide Kids with Lessons in Leadership

Guest Writer

Leadership doesn’t only start in the classroom; it also begins on the playing field and in other planned activities. Physical activity is attributed to many health benefits in adolescents, including improved strength and endurance, better health, reduced anxiety, and increased self-esteem. It also has many benefits beyond physical fitness. It offers children the opportunity to interact, establish cooperation, become self-directed, and develop essential leadership skills, emotional skills, and social skills to help them lead healthy and happy lives.

Teaching children leadership also includes teaching them that this skill is more than simply the ability to encourage others to follow their lead. It includes the ability to encourage and help others, promote team spirit, communicate, demonstrate courage, and provide and receive constructive criticism.

Team Sports

Leadership is closely linked to personal success, self-confidence, and social support. It’s important to instill the seeds of leadership at a young age to offer our youth the opportunity to build that strong foundation. Although leadership may be an innate strength of some personalities over others, this trait can also be cultivated. Sports in particular that focus on team participation and working towards a common goal are important breeding grounds for leadership skills. Although the physical component of team sports is important in building the self-confidence that supports leadership, the social nature of these games provides a great deal of the benefit. Team sports are competitive and push children to do their best and test their limits both physically and socially.


Volunteer opportunities require adolescents to be on time and accountable to a specific activity. They also help promote a child’s sense of community and responsibility to others, along with the valuable personal nurturing that comes with giving back to those who are less fortunate.

Getting kids involved in local environmental cleanup activities, food banks, soup kitchens, and senior centers can help teach them how to care for others as well as the planet they live upon. Through volunteering they pick up important skills about cooperation, care, and leading by example.

Humane societies are also often full of readily available volunteer opportunities. They are great places to foster empathy and care for our fellow animals while also requiring children to self-direct. Walking shelter dogs provides the opportunity to lead another living being, and can be a great way for children who struggle with social challenges to bond and take charge in a judgement-free environment.

Summer Camps

Summer camps can help get kids up, moving about, and making new friends. These camps focus on celebrating effort first and foremost, and teach children how to connect with nature and each other. Campers are encouraged to include peers, work together, and build diverse social groups. They also get kids out of their familiar surroundings and offer them a chance to reimagine themselves and experience a social structure that begins as a clean slate. Without the parachute of their everyday environment, children can build greater levels of autonomy and increase their ability to interact with new peers and circumstances. These pro-social behaviors can help develop a great many skills such as bravery, morality, flexibility, cooperation, and many other core values.

Summer camps are a wonderful environment in which children can develop new lifelong interests, experience new community dynamics, and practice social skills such as tolerance, sensitivity, diversity, awareness, and interpersonal negotiations.


Lifeguarding and other activities like it (such as cross guarding, pet walking, and babysitting) requires a high level of accountability that naturally promotes leadership skills. This type of activity requires the young adult to be aware of their surroundings, remain prepared, and handle the responsibility of taking the appropriate action during a wide range of circumstances. They must take their training seriously, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and remain confident and courageous. They must also be able to reliably report on safety issues and be counted on to maintain a safe environment for others.

Team Building Games

Games help stimulate the mind and provide the opportunity to combine physical activity with strategy, problem-solving, and communication. Here are a few great games that promote leadership skills and can be applied to both classroom and extracurricular environments:

  • Trust Walk – Pair up individuals and blindfold one of them. The “leader” is then required to lead their blindfolded partner around an obstacle course reliably. This game promotes trust, reliability, and most importantly, effective communication between partners.
  • Talent Shows – Building a skit is a great activity that promotes leadership through competition, team spirit, and creativity. Assign teams of three to five individuals each and ask them to come up with a short dance, skit, or other activity. Talent shows can increase personal confidence and requires a group of children to work together to support each other in a cooperative, yet competitive atmosphere that pushes them to offer their best and interact positively with their peers.
  • Scavenger Hunts – Scavenger hunts are a great physical activity that requires leadership and cooperation. Create teams and nominate a team leader to help shepherd the group through the hunt. The assigned team leader gets the opportunity and challenge of having the last say in interpreting clues and directing the group successfully. These games help develop interpersonal relationships, communication, and both leadership and coping skills under high pressure environments.

The case for physical activity and its role in improving leadership skills is strong, and is a good basis for the inclusion of physical activities within the adolescent’s weekly routine. According to studies, middle school children who scored highest in leadership and empathy skills were more physically active than their peers. It is important to provide opportunities to develop leadership through physical activity both inside the school curriculum and outside of school hours. By promoting these types of beneficial activities early on in the education process, children learn critical skills that can help them thrive in the years to come. Schools in particular are excellent places in which to instill and maintain physical activities that promote the important skill of leadership.


"Physical Activities that Provide Kids with Lessons in Leadership", 2016


Dr. Kymm Ballard

Executive Director
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